For the 97th time, Clemson and South Carolina will renew one of the nation’s fiercest rivalries when the Tigers travel to Williams Brice Stadium to take on the winless Gamecocks. With a win, the Tigers are almost surely headed back to the Peach Bowl for the fourth time in the ‘90’s; a loss means Clemson will be shut out of the post-season for the second straight year. A bowl-berth isn’t a possibility for the Gamecocks, who could be the first modern-day SEC team to finish a season 0-11. For Coach Lou Holtz and South Carolina, an upset win over their arch rivals would ease the pain of another dismal season, while another loss for the Gamecocks could make for a long winter in Columbia.
QUARTERBACKS- South Carolina has shuttled in a total of five quarterbacks this season after original starter Phil Petty went down to injury, none of whom could kick start the team’s lethargic offense. The Gamecock’s passing offense has been dreadful, averaging only 136-yards per game, 104th nationally out of 114 teams. Petty’s return last week against Florida gave South Carolina fans hope, but when the final gun sounded, the Gamecocks had put up only three points. Woodrow Dantzler once again moves into the starting quarterback role for Clemson after Brandon Streeter was lost to a hip injury against Georgia Tech. Dantzler has been effective for the Tigers, particularly when utilizing his athleticism as a runner. South Carolina will likely crowd the line and force Dantzler to beat them with his arm, something Wake Forest did against the sophomore with effectiveness.
RUNNING BACKS- While South Carolina’s passing game is bad, their running game is even worse. The Gamecocks have averaged a meager 90-yards per game on the ground in Holtz’ run-based offense. Injury-plagued freshman Derek Watson leads the Gamecocks on the ground, averaging 3.6-yards per carry and 42-yards per game. Only two Gamecocks have scored rushing offense this season. Travis Zachery has run for 235-yards in the Tiger’s last two games and accounted for 42-points- 24 less than the Gamecocks have scored as a team all season. South Carolina’s defense has been respectable against the run, giving up 143-yards per game, meaning that Zachery will have to fight to keep up his hot streak.
CLEMSON RECEIVERS VS. SOUTH CAROLINA SECONDARY- Clemson’s Rod Gardner will try to bounce back against the Gamecocks after being held to only two receptions last week. South Carolina’s secondary is competent, allowing the opposition only 153-yards per outing, and the Gamecocks could catch a break if Clemson’s Brian Wofford is unable to perform due to a knee injury. If Wofford can’t play, it will be up to Joe Don Reames and Jackie Robinson step up in relief.
SOUTH CAROLINA RECEIVERS VS. CLEMSON SECONDARY- After giving up 322-passing yards to Georgia Tech, the Tiger secondary will have a golden opportunity to bounce back against one of the nation’s worst passing offenses. The Gamecocks leading receiver, Jermale Kelly, has only 23 catches on the year- fewer than half as many as Clemson’s Rod Gardner has.
CLEMSON OFFENSIVE LINE VS. SOUTH CAROLINA DEFENSIVE LINE- Despite only recording 19 sacks thus far, South Carolina has been effective up front behind defensive ends Kalimba Edwards and Matt Marsters. Clemson’s offensive line had a tough time last week against a relatively weak Georgia Tech. Things won’t get any easier against the Gamecocks.
Advantage: South Carolina
SOUTH CAROLINA OFFENSIVE LINE VS. CLEMSON DEFENSIVE LINE- The Gamecock linemen haven’t been able to run block (South Carolina averages a pitiful 2.3-yards per rush as a team) and they certainly haven’t been able to pass protect (37 sacks allowed). Perhaps the only thing that the South Carolina line has managed to do consistently is draw the wrath of Holtz. The Gamecocks are young and they’ve been banged up all year. In short, the Tiger defensive line will have the opportunity to make some noise on Saturday.
LINEBACKERS- Corey Atkins’ play has been a bright spot in South Carolina’s otherwise murky season. The senior linebacker leads the Gamecocks with 95 tackles and 9 tackles for loss and has been praised by Holtz as one of the best defensive players in the SEC. Sophomore Kenneth Harney has recorded 79 stops while senior John Abraham leads the team with five sacks. Clemson’s Keith Adams should be a presence in the South Carolina backfield as he attempts to bolster his ACC tackles for loss record. Chad Carson, Altroy Bodrick, and Braxton Williams need to step up against the to keep the Gamecocks from establishing a running game.
SPECIAL TEAMS- Clemson and South Carolina are almost equally dismal in terms of field goal kicking. Gamecock kicker Scott Florio is 6-13 on the year, including just 1-3 from inside 29-yards, while Clemson’s less than dynamic duo of Tony Lazzara and Chris Campbell have combined to hit 8-14 attempts- a misleading number considering that five of the misses have come within 35-yards. Ryan Romano’s punting slipped last week after a string of strong performances while South Carolina’s Courtney Leavitt averages a respectable 40.4-yards per punt. Joe Don Reames will likely continue to return kickoffs for the Tigers after taking over for Wofford against Georgia Tech. Reames’ 40-yard return against the Yellow Jackets was Clemson’s longest of the season.
COACHING- Despite all of the hoopla surrounding Holtz’ arrival as head coach, South Carolina has sunk to a new low in it’s less than impressive football history. While injuries have decimated the Gamecocks, Holtz has continued to pound the pall into the line, refusing to stray from his ground-based offensive philosophy. South Carolina’s offensive line is young and lacks depth, two factors that would seemingly point towards spreading the field instead of attempting to grind it up the middle. Meanwhile, behind Tommy Bowden and Rich Rodriguez, Clemson’s offense has evolved from a horror show into a potent machine capable of scoring points in a hurry. As a result, the Tigers are flirting with a bowl berth less than one year removed from a three-win season, quite a strong coaching statement for Bowden considering that last year’s team might have been more talented. While judging the ultimate effectiveness of the two new coaching staffs would be premature at this point, Bowden certainly looks to have the edge after the first ten games.
PREDICTION- On paper, this game shouldn’t even be close. In reality, this is a rivalry, and a bitter one at that, where the records, statistics, and even the talent levels can be buried for one week. Clemson- South Carolina means a war of passion and heart where a brutal game by nature becomes a little more personal between the hashmarks. All conventional signs point to a Tiger victory: Clemson hasn’t lost two straight this year, South Carolina hasn’t won in over a year; Clemson’s offense is explosive, South Carolina’s is a dud; Clemson is fighting for a bowl bid, South Carolina is fighting for a shred of football dignity. Anything can happen, but, for now, we go with convention.
Clemson- 21 South Carolina- 6